NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson won the The Chase for the Sprint Cup last season. (Special Photo: Randy Sartin, USA TODAY Sports)
HAMPTON — A change in format to determine starting positions for events held in its three national divisions by NASCAR will likely have a direct impact on Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Labor Day Weekend of racing.
The new qualifying procedure is a departure from the format used for more than 50 years for NASCAR Sprint Cup series and NASCAR Nationwide Series events. It will feature three separate multi-car qualifying rounds with five-minute breaks in between each round.
“Qualifying at Atlanta Motor Speedway already carries a high element of drama with drivers trying to turn a quick lap at one of NASCAR’s fastest tracks,” Atlanta Motor Speedway President and General Manager Ed Clark said. “With this new format, a totally new element of excitement has been added to make qualifying a much more competitive part of Labor Day Weekend activities.”
Here is a look at the new procedure:
First Round: At tracks longer than 1.25 miles, the first qualifying elimination round will be 25 minutes long, with the fastest 24 cars advancing to the next round of qualifying. The cars not advancing will be sorted in descending order based on their qualifying times and will fill the last starting positions.
Second Round: The second round of qualifying will be 10 minutes in length and the 12 fastest cars will advance to the final round. The fastest remaining cars that do not advance will be placed in starting positions 13 through 24 based on their qualifying times.
Third Round: The third and final round of qualifying will be five minutes in length and will determine the first 12 positions.
Again, the AdvoCare 500 figures to play a crucial role in determining the drivers for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The NASCAR schedule has the Labor Day race slotted as the second-to-last race before the Chase begins.
“A handful of drivers with their season on the line put themselves in position to make the chase with their finish this past year,” Clark said. “The race at Atlanta Motor Speedway remains crucial in determining who will qualify for the Chase.”
Atlanta Motor Speedway figures to play a pivotal role as drivers battle for wins, points and position before the ten-race playoff begins. In past years, a driver’s finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day weekend can make or break a season. Kyle Busch was the winner of the AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway last year.
Jimmie Johnson won this past season’s Sprint Cup with 2419 points to edge out Matt Kenseth, who had 2400 points. Busch would end up fourth in the standings, a position behind third-place finisher Kevin Harvick. Rounding out the top-5 was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. at fifth.
Former Thursday Thunder driver Joey Logano finished eighth in last season’s Cup standings.
The new NASCAR season begins on Feb. 23 with the Daytona 500 at 1 p.m. on FOX. The season will culminate again with the final race in the Chase at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 16 at 3 p.m. on ESPN.